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Access to Clean Water and Soap Vital for Growth in Young Children

Update Date: Aug 01, 2013 02:24 PM EDT

Children need a lot of nutrients to grow both mentally and physically. Studies have shown that a lack of nutrients can greatly affect children's health, which can lead to chronic illnesses later on in life. According to a new report, researchers found that having access to clean water and soap might improve the amount of growth experienced by young children under the age of five.

In this report, the researchers focused on 14 nations that are classified as low and middle-income countries where clean water and soap might not be as accessible in comparison to more developed countries. These countries include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chile, Guatemala, Pakistan, Nepal, South Africa, Kenya and Cambodia. The researchers compiled data that allowed them to study how water, sanitation and hygiene programs impact children's growth. The researchers were able to study these effects on 9,469 children.

Based from the findings, the researchers calculated that if these countries intervened in current programs and created better programs to promote water quality and provide soap, children under five-years-old could grow an extra 0.5 centimeters. Although half a centimeter does not sound like a lot, it could still impact the growth of a child, the researchers reported.

"We typically think that providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene is an effective way to reduce the incidence and associated deaths from diseases such as diarrhea - which remains the third biggest killer of under fives worldwide. For the first time our analysis suggests that better access to these services may also have a small but important impact on the growth of young children," the report's lead author, Dr. Alan Dangour, a public health nutritionist from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said.

He added, "While there are some important shortcomings in the available evidence base, we estimate that clean drinking water and effective hand washing could reduce the prevalence of stunting in children under the age of five by up to 15%. This is potentially an extremely important finding, that identifies that improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene could be a key part of the tool kit to tackle the global burden of under-nutrition."

The researchers hope that their findings would persuade countries to start addressing the issues related to water sanitation and personal hygiene. Stunting is a serious condition that affects around 164 million children within the global community. Stunting can lead to physical and mental health issues. This report was published in the Cochrane Review

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